Hypothyroidism has received a lot of attention online since the publication of Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms? by Datis Kharrazian in 2009. While many facets should be addressed in managing hypothyroidism, one of the most important continues to be a gluten-free diet.
Research shows ninety percent of hypothyroidism cases are due to an autoimmune disease that attacks and destroys the thyroid gland. This disease is called Hashimoto’s.
Most doctors do not test for Hashimoto’s because it does not change treatment, which is thyroid medication. Also, many cases of hypothyroidism go undiagnosed because Hashimoto’s can cause the lab marker TSH to fluctuate.
Where does gluten fit in with this? Numerous studies have linked an immune reaction to gluten with Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism. Whether it’s a gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, gluten triggers an autoimmune attack on the thyroid gland in many people. Most of these people do not even know they are sensitive to gluten.
Going off gluten is the first step with Hashimoto’s
Studies, clinical observation, and patient stories make a very strong case for the benefits of going gluten-free to better manage your Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism symptoms.
A number of studies for several countries show a link between Hashimoto’s and gluten. This is because the protein structure of gluten closely resembles that of thyroid tissue. When your immune system reacts to gluten, it may start erroneously reacting to thyroid tissue as well. This will cause the immune system to attack and destroy thyroid tissue in a case of mistaken identity.
Studies also show patients improve on a strict gluten-free diet. One study showed as many as 71 percent of subjects resolved their hypothyroid symptoms after following a strict gluten-free diet for one year.
Why you may need to stop eating other foods too
Sorry to say, going gluten-free alone doesn’t always work. Many people with Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism also need to go dairy-free. Dairy, whether it’s cow, goat, or sheep, is the second biggest problem food for people with Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism.
Many people simply have an immune intolerance to dairy and aren’t aware of it until they stop consuming it. However, in an immune sensitive individual, the body may also mistake dairy for gluten and trigger an immune reaction that ultimately ends up targeting the thyroid.
For those serious about managing their Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, a gluten-free and dairy-free diet frequently results in profound alleviation of symptoms, if not total remission.
Many find they may need to eliminate additional foods, such as certain grains, eggs, or soy. An elimination/provocation diet can help you figure out what your immune system reacts to, or a comprehensive food sensitivity test from Cyrex Labs.
What is there left to eat?
If you’re used to eating without restrictions, eliminating gluten, dairy, and possibly other foods to manage your Hashimoto’s
If a child suddenly develops behavioral and neurological symptoms after a strep infection, PANDAS should be suspected. PANDAS is a neuro-immune disorder in which a strep infection triggers brain inflammation and the immune system starts to attack and destroy brain tissue, causing a sudden onset of neurological symptoms.
PANDAS stands for Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections.
PANS, or Pediatric Acute-Onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome, is similar, except environmental factors or other infections trigger symptoms.
PANDAS diagnosis criteria
Functional neurology help for PANDAS/PANS
Because PANDAS and PANS involve the immune system, management involves testing markers for inflammation, infections, immune function, and brain autoimmunity (when the immune system attacks and destroys brain tissue).
It’s also helpful to conduct a functional neurology exam to identify compromised areas of the brain, as well as to establish a baseline of brain function.
Repeat testing can show you how well PANDAS/PANS protocols are working. Functional neurology rehabilitation may also help with recovery. For instance, therapies targeting different areas of the brain can calm an over active immune system and over activation of pathways.
Functional medicine help for PANDAS/PANS
Additionally, functional medicine strategies may include removing inflammatory triggers from the diet and the environment; nutritional therapies to lower inflammation and support brain health; addressing blood sugar, gut health, and toxicity; supporting neurotransmitters; and repairing mitochondrial function and the blood-brain barrier.
Conventional medical help for PANDAS/PANS
Therapies from the conventional model that have been shown to help include steroids and NSAIDs for inflammation; plasmapharesis (plasma exchange) to reduce antibodies; intravenous immunoglobulins (IVIG) to support immune modulation; and immune modulating medications when necessary.
Understanding the PANDAS/PANS brain
When PANDAS/PANS strikes a child — an estimated 1 in 200 children are affected — parents become both frightened and devastated. Understanding what is happening in the brain can help alleviate anxiety.
The functional neurology exam can help identify which pathways in the brain are affected. PANDAS/PANS typically affects communication loops between the basal ganglia, cerebellum, and frontal lobe.
Act quickly to address PANDAS/PANS
PANDAS/PANS is a significant and scary disorder, but taking action quickly improves the chances of an optimal outcome. For more information, contact my office.
More than one in seven children suffer from developmental disorders today. But this doesn’t mean change isn’t possible. The brain is enormously malleable, or plastic, and with the right input on a consistent basis using functional neurology, we often can improve brain function.
Common brain development disorders today include:
How brain development disorders arise
These disorders can arise for a variety of reasons, such as:
Poor brain development unfolds in a variety of ways. For instance, important milestones in brain development, such as crawling, may be skipped. The brain is a highly complex network of multiple pathways. Proper formation of this network of pathways depends in part on the child going through each milestone of development.
When the brain fails to develop correctly, one hemisphere grows more slowly than the other, giving rise to various disorders that are either left-brain dominant or right-brain dominant. This is why we see kids who are intellectually advanced (left brain) yet socially and emotionally delayed (right brain). As this imbalance progresses, the brain finds it increasingly difficult to network between the hemispheres, causing loss of function.
Also, infections and autoimmune attacks against areas of the brain sabotage proper development and hinder function in those pathways. For instance, the basal ganglia, which helps regulate involuntary motor movements, is a common site of viral and autoimmune attack. This can cause disorders such as OCD, Tourette syndrome, and tics.
Start with metabolic health of the brain
Functional neurology also includes addressing the metabolic health of the brain. If the brain is struggling with inflammation, blood sugar imbalances, or chronic poor health from a bad diet, it will not respond as well to rehabilitation. Additionally, children’s brains require ample healthy fatty acids — EPA and DHA.
Metabolic issues to look out for with brain development disorders include:
Functional neurology brain exercises for brain development disorders
Fortunately, functional neurology can help address brain development disorders.
The types of brain rehabilitation a child needs depends on patient history and a functional neurology examination, which assesses brain function, areas of under and over development, and areas that are over stimulated or under stimulated. The functional neurologist can then tailor exercises to the brain environment and adjust them over time as function improves.
Many families report swift and significant shifts in behavior, mood, sociability, learning, and other brain-based signs.
Ask my office how functional neurology can help if your child has a brain based developmental disorder.
Did you know too much iron is toxic and inflammatory? If you are working to manage a chronic inflammatory condition, make sure high iron levels aren’t sabotaging your efforts. (Likewise, low iron levels can also make it difficult or impossible to heal.)
Hemochromatosis is a genetic disorder in which the body absorbs too much dietary iron. It is a relatively common condition, affecting approximately a million people in the United States. Symptoms typically include joint pain, chronic fatigue, heart flutters, and abdominal pain. Untreated hemochromatosis increases the risk of diabetes, arthritis, liver inflammation (cirrhosis), sexual dysfunction, and other diseases.
Psychological symptoms may include depression, anxiety, nervous tics, and obsessive compulsive disorder. Iron accumulation in the basal ganglia of the brain can interfere significantly with neurological functioning, leading to movement disorders and/or dementia.
Because symptoms vary so much and the disorder is associated with differing conditions, hemochromatosis often goes undiagnosed. If hemochromatosis is suspected, a series of three blood tests known collectively as the Iron Panel confirm diagnosis.
Once hemochromatosis has been identified, it can be addressed in two ways. The medical treatment for hemochromatosis is phlebotomy, which means periodically drawing blood from the body. This helps normalize the body’s iron levels and can relieve many, though not all, hemochromatosis symptoms.
The other way to alleviate symptoms and reduce the dangers of hemochromatosis is through diet — avoiding certain foods and supplements, while favoring others.
What to Avoid
Don’t take iron supplements or multivitamins that contain iron. Even people who have not been diagnosed with hemochromatosis should be cautious of iron supplements (many different factors besides iron deficiency cause anemia, find the root cause for your anemia before taking iron).
Certain medical conditions, such as restless leg syndrome, are associated with iron deficiency, and iron supplements may be prescribed or recommended for these conditions. However, anyone should have their iron levels checked first before taking supplements.
Stay away from vitamin C supplements and orange juice, as vitamin C increases iron absorption. (It is generally okay, however, to eat whole foods that contain vitamin C.)
Avoid or at least minimize alcohol consumption. Alcohol compromises liver function, the organ most vulnerable to too much iron.
Stay away from shellfish and raw fish as they may contain infectious bacteria that people with hemochromatosis are particularly vulnerable to.
Avoid or minimize red meat consumption. Red meat contains a form of iron that the body absorbs most easily.
Avoid or minimize sugar intake. Sugar increases iron absorption.
What to Increase
Essentially, there are two types of foods that a person with hemochromatosis should eat plenty of.
The first category is foods that inhibit iron absorption, such as:
The second category is foods that contain iron, but in a form difficult to absorb. Nearly all vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and beans are in this category. Many of them contain oxalates as well, which reduce iron absorption.
If you are going to occasionally consume some foods that have easily absorbed iron, such as meat or sweets, combine them with foods that block iron absorption.
A hemochromatosis diet need not necessarily be overly strict. Much of it will depend on an individual’s level of iron overload, as revealed by lab tests. Ask my office for more information on hemochromatosis and whether it may be hindering your functional medicine protocol.